500 Startups-backed Beeketing, a SaaS startup in Vietnam that provides marketing campaign automation, is looking at touching the $1-million sales mark this year, having been in the revenue zone even before it raised funding.
Founder Truong Manh Quan, who was featured in the Forbes Vietnam 30 Under 30 influential people list, talks to DEALSTREETASIA about his experience at 500 Startups’ accelerator and how startups in the south east Asian country can raise funds, tweak strategies and grow.
Besides the funding, what are the other strategic inputs you gained as part of being a portfolio of 500 Startups?
500 Startups is running four funds. Several Southeast Asian portfolio companies of 500 Startups are invested by the Singapore-based fund. We are different as we got the chance to join its accelerator in the US. So, besides the funding, Beeketing has enjoyed training and mentorship from the programme. At 500 Startups, there is 500 Distro to advice companies in the accelerator programme. There was a specialist who would sit down with Beeketing and tackle any growth hacking problems we may have. I think that’s a really interesting activity happening inside 500 Startups.
What are your key takeaways from the 500 Accelerator and how has the experience helped your business grow?
The most visible change is the growth in our revenue, which has increased by four times. The revenue was growing earlier but it grew exponentially high since we joined the batch. It was thanks to the support of 500 Distro. When I was in Vietnam, I spent a lot of time to reach advisors for our problems. Here, I have a highly experienced mentor 24/7 to help.
Part of our team is still in Vietnam to take care of our local business while we join the training programme, so the volume of work has doubled. We have to focus on product development while looking to raise funds and participate in the accelerator programme’s events. The tasks are prolific.
What factors make Silicon Valley ecosystem successful? What is missing in Vietnam?
I think businesses are the same in Silicon Valley and Vietnam. There are successful startups here (US) and there are lot of companies that have failed too. Many startups come to pitching competitions with unattractive ideas and poor growth plans. But the elements that made Silicon Valley ecosystem successful is high profile mentors. One of the mentors for Beeketing is the founder of Grasshopper, which has an annual sales of around $30 million, and he has exited the venture. There are a lot of such successful men in the Silicon Valley to learn from.
Another difference from the Vietnamese ecosystem is the “fail fast” mindset. At Spotify, for instance, the founder said, “We aim to make mistakes faster than everybody else”. They build the product fast, pivot fast, and market it fast so that they garner the success at the earliest. Meanwhile in Vietnam, some teams have good engineers but it takes months, even years, to finish the products. There are also young Vietnamese who want to start up but just spend time asking experts on forums without actually implementing the real products.
Startup people in the Silicon Valley follow that “fail fast” culture, and get huge expertise from various mentors. I think these are the most important factors.
What about other factors like the number of investors and government support, which is limited in Vietnam?
Actually, there is not a lot of support for startups here while in Vietnam, you might hear or read about government’s policy proposals for startups. But there are truly a lot of investors. Most of the time, I hear about a new VC fund. At the same time, because there are many startups in the US, fundraising is not easy, especially now when unicorns are exposed to operational challenges.
Vietnam has the geographic advantage of being located near Singapore, where a lot of VCs are present. If Vietnamese startups need funding, they can come to Singapore for events and network anytime. Beeketing was launched in August 2014 and it secured an angel investment in December 2014. In 2015, I came to Singapore five times and met a lot of people, which paved way for the next development milestones of Beeketing.
It often took us three to four months working with the investors for the fundraising. A plus point for Beeketing is that we have a stable revenue growth, an attractive factor for investors, that helped us get funded. To gain high growth, we have a motto that Beeketing has to get better every two weeks. The first time I talked to investors, they rejected us. But when I reached them again after three months, they saw that our business was growing.
Invested by one of the most reputable funds, being featured under Forbes ’30 under 30′ list, how do you feel? What is the plan for 2016?
Even as my startup has raised funding, and being honored in the list is quite an achievement, I see problems happen everyday. And, we continue to work hard. Our goal for 2016 is to gain $1 million revenue, three times higher than where it stands currently.
We are working on the next round of fundraising. If it proceeds successfully, we will diversify our team with overseas hires. Raising fund is terrific, but it does not matter if the business is already on track and makes money.
What does it take to gain international exposure?
When I started my earlier venture, Sieuweb, I was more successful reaching out to US customers than sticking to Vietnamese customers. Particularly, the US is a very open market with a diversity in population. Therefore, there are not many barriers if you want to enter this market. I think it is totally feasible if Vietnamese startups, given the local talent, target this market.
The vital part is that you learn the language and culture of the target country. In the past year, I have been travelling to several countries to learn about their cultures. Other startups can do the same, visiting nearby tech hubs like Singapore to learn.